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The benefits of Parallel Thinking using the Six Thinking Hats

(3 min read)

‘Thinking is the ultimate human resource.’

Dr. Edward de Bono

 

Logic, analysis and argument are the dominant modes of thinking taught in education and used at work. These are essential and not sufficient. Without a framework to recognise the role of perception and design in thinking, these traditional modes of thinking can reduce productivity.

The “I am right, you are wrong” mentality pitches one intelligent mind against another. Parallel Thinking is an alternative framework to align intelligence in pursuit of a common goal. 

 

Parallel Thinking makes better use of time and intelligence, so that thinking becomes more focused, more constructive, and more productive.

The Six Thinking Hats is the practical framework for organising Parallel Thinking. It brings a structure and direction to thinking so that is no longer a matter of drift, reaction, and argument.

The method separates out the critical, the creative and the emotional aspects of thinking. Each of these are essential but they conflict with each other. The method makes time and provides structure for each of these aspects.

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  • “Critical” is derived from the Greek kritikós to judge. The Six Hats provides a balance in evaluating both the benefits and the risks in a situation. Normally, if we think an idea is not workable, we will spend all our time arguing against it. With the Six Hats method, all participants explore the benefits and risks, irrespective of their opinion. This is more productive as the thinking is more comprehensive and objective and time is not wasted in debate.​

  • Thinking is too often just critical in nature and this conflicts with the value seeking and creative aspects of thinking. This is why in Parallel Thinking the critical and creative modes of thinking are separated out. Edward de Bono originated the term “Lateral Thinking” to describe a learnable and structured approach to deliberately generating ideas and changing perception. The Six Thinking Hats makes space for these methods.

    • These methods increase the fluency of thinking, where thinkers develop the ability to generate multiple ideas, thoughts and actions. Also the flexibility of thinking, generating a greater range of concepts (categories of ideas). This helps us be more resourceful and adaptive.

    • Effort is focused on generating new valuable possibilities not difference for the sake of difference.

  • We often make a values-based judgement which is tied into how we feel about something and then use our intelligence to support that judgement and attack the alternative point of view. The risk is not to think at all but to rely on gut feeling and emotion. The Six Hats method acknowledges that emotions, feelings, and intuition are an important aspect of practical thinking but should not be disguised as logic. The method acknowledges feelings as an important influence in the thinking without allowing them to dominate.

The hats can be used to “deconflict” by requesting a certain mode of thinking or to request a switch from one mode of thinking to another. The game-like nature of the method means this can be done without causing offence. The motivation changes from wanting “my idea to win”, to wanting to contribute as a good thinker. 

 

The Six Thinking Hats are easy to learn and remember and quickly become a common language for encouraging better thinking and communication, for exploring and developing ideas rather than arguing over who is right and who is wrong. The framework provides a simple and practical mechanism for collaboration. It is not a framework for categorising people, everyone is expected to contribute to all six modes of thinking.

The purpose is to improve the effectiveness of an individual or group in exploring and developing ideas, problem solving, and decision making. It provides a framework to help people to think clearly and thoroughly by directing their collective attention in the same direction in parallel. The system establishes a respect for all types of thinking and sets an expectation that everybody can improve their thinking, the impact of their actions, and their contribution. All viewpoints are considered, even if there is contradiction. 

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Summary: The Six Thinking Hats method avoids confusion and argument by focusing everyone on one mode of thinking in parallel. This broadens everyone’s point of view and leads to more inclusive and therefore better considered decisions.

Next Steps

Find out how de Bono trainers and facilitators can help at deBono.com/training

How effective are your meetings? Take the assessment.

If your organisation has signed up for the Six Thinking Hats course, you can start here.

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